Living a simple life: D is for Dressing

D is for Dressing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

When I first planned out what I was going to write for each letter, D was originally for depression. I don’t really want to define myself by depression though. I’m moving forward into a calmer, happier future – not hanging on to the past.

Then I was going to write about dogs. I really love dogs. Dogs are AWESOME. Sadly, I have never had a dog. My partner has, and I get to play with an office dog three times a week. But, dogs have not been a significant part of my life thus far — though I hope they will be in the future.

So now I am going to talk about ‘dressing‘ or ‘dresses’ or ‘clothes’ (but clothes doesn’t start with a D).

My friend wrote a post about some of the perils of trying to dress yourself, which is interesting and relevant and says many things I agree with.

I have a lot of anxiety around clothes, as perhaps do many people. As a kid, I wore only second-hand clothes – cast-offs from other children a bit older than me. As such, I never really had a style, nor did I develop one.

When I got to university, I went clothes shopping with a student loan burning a hole in my back pocket. I bought my first ever ‘outfit’. I do not remember what it was. I did not really understand clothes, myself, or style.

It didn’t help that I viewed myself as, well, unattractive. Not in a particularly self-hating way, but I had bad acne and couldn’t really see any way that a particular style of dressing would make me NOT have bad acne.
So I wore baggy jumpers, jeans, walking boots. I opted for practical over pretty. That became my ‘style’, by default really.

But… every now and then I bought something. A short plaid skirt. A purple waistcoat. A tight, chinese-style dress. Clothes I bought and then… just never wore.

But I gradually realised that… I actually liked clothes.

I have a Pinterest board entirely filled with clothes.

There is clearly a style that I like. Unfortunately for me, it’s also clearly an expensive style. I like intricate patterns, colours (especially purple), high quality materials, iridescence. I have a thing about texture — I really kind of hate polyester. I like silk, satin, velvet, breezy cotton.

In short, I am secretly a clothes snob.

What does this have to do with living a simple life?

I guess it’s about paying attention to the details. I tend to just throw on whatever clothes I have. I usually take the easy option of jeans, t-shirt, jumper. But with a bit of thought, a bit of time (and maybe a bit of money) I could start dressing in a more meaningful way.

 

Productive Days

I didn’t spend the day staring at my smartphone.

Instead I:

  • Did an hour of exercise (Pilates and Yoga)
  • Cleaned out my car, vacuumed it, washed the inside
  • Went to the supermarket and got the car waxed and polished whilst I ate a cream tea and read a magazine about living a simple life
  • Bought myself flowers
  • Cleaned the bedroom, organised my wardrobe, sorted out the bookcase
  • Went to the tip and dumped some old stuff I didn’t want anymore
  • Beat a mission in Starcraft II on hard and got the achievement
  • Made stir-fry
  • Watched a movie with P

So far, so good.

Living in the present moment

I am easily distractible, and I carry a smartphone. P says I am addicted to my smartphone, he is probably right. I use it to fill up empty spaces, in-between moments. I have no quiet moments except the ones I force for myself (yoga, meditating, baths).

I can feel it making me a less coherent person. For example, today I went to look something up, but noticed someone had sent me a message. I went to reply, then – distracted – opened up emails, glanced at the news, followed links.

I am no longer sure I like the form my conversations take when using it. They are broken up, interwoven through everything else I am doing, I am constantly splitting my attention between multiple things, and I don’t work well that way.

The problem will be that I have many relationships that I nurture through my phone. But maybe I can go back to email, and carry my laptop. Laptops are more intentional. You have to open them, turn them on. You can’t slip them out when you are standing in a bus queue or glance at them off-handedly when you’re watching a movie.

I am trying to be more intentional, more thoughtful, more controlled, and my smartphone is not helpful for any of those things.

Rebirth

I did not write any blog posts in the entirety of 2016.

2016 was a strange year. I spent it deep in a depressive episode that stopped me from thinking, from doing, and almost from being.

There are many reasons why, but I have done the work and I am tired of looking back. I want to look forward.

I am applying to do an MA in English Literature. I am maintaining a daily yoga practice. I’m working in a job that is challenging me – sometimes beyond what I am comfortable with.

I’m reading more, after a long break. I’m making friends and staying connected to old friends. At some point I will start writing again.

Life is actually okay.

Re-starting my life

Can anyone believe that it’s actually June?!

I have been rubbish at blogging this year, not least because of the problems alluded to in my previous post. However, I want to start blogging regularly again. I now know that I will be remaining in the UK, for the foreseeable future. I’m currently working on finding a real home, and I’m so excited. I’m going to have an address.

First things first though. And the first thing to do is go on holiday. To Lake Coniston in the Lake District. As usual, I’m trying to read books set in and around the place to which I am traveling… so I picked up a copy of Swallows and Amazons last week. I also picked up a new Clive Barker book, because, hey, I’m on holiday.

I also picked up a copy of the next book on the 100 books challenge, having decided to abandon the Red and the Black on the grounds that it is incredibly boring.

Hopefully I will finish the short story I am working on during the holiday as well, and you can enjoy that when I get back!

Performing a U-Turn (pretend like you knew where you were going all along)

We all have plans.

Those plans, the big ones, become part of our identity. “I’m the science-type who’s going to make a career in bio-tech.” “I’m the self-sufficient sort who is going to build my own eco-friendly house from scratch.” or “I’m the kind of l33t player who is going to be a World Champion in World of Warcraft.”

I have wanted to move to the USA since I went there as part of a University exchange program. It didn’t matter that I went to a podunk town in the middle of rural Ohio. I loved the place. I loved the wide-open vistas, the idea that I could go into a real wilderness, the way everyone was so open and friendly, and even the food — venison, steak, ranch dressing, refried beans (not all on the same plate!).

When I met P, I fell in love and we agreed to get married. Initially, he had to come to the UK as I had a better paying job. We decided he would get his British Citizenship (two-three years) and then we would move to the USA.

For the next seven years that was the plan. We shifted priorities, but that was always the end game. I would move to the USA. We delayed it when I got my breakthrough job as Digital Communications Officer (until that point I had nothing that resembled a ‘career’), as I knew I needed at least two years experience.

But, at long last, I filled out my visa application. I let my employer know I would be leaving in a few months. And… I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Delays can mean legal immigrants (yes, even those married to an American) sit on a waiting list for months and months. In our case, I had already been separated from P  for most of the previous two years due to ‘life reasons’.

A year of waiting for the visa slipped by.

Our relationship, until that point incredibly strong, began to suffer. Both of us were ‘living in limbo’, waiting for a decision that could come at any point. Both of us were struggling alone, dealing with loneliness, the difficulty of communicating across different time-zones, and (in my case) the impossibility of planning your life when you have no idea if you’re going to be around for a week or another year.

Then I got a new job. A great job, part-time, that would give me time to write and still leave me with enough money to cover our living expenses.

Friendships I had formed in the UK were reaching ten and twenty year anniversaries. The thought of leaving them behind became devastating, especially as I leaned on them more and more in P’s absence.

But this was the plan. We had to stick to the plan. We had invested years of our lives and thousands of dollars into the plan. No matter that we were unhappy, lonely, and that I was less and less sure about the benefits of moving to a place with little work and no public transport.

Until, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a bad week. I was sick, and then I got food poisoning. As I threw up, alone, I realised I was done waiting and being alone.

The realisation was both terrifying and a relief at the same time.

The realisation that we could just stop.

Of course, it would be difficult. Giving up on anything is hard. We had spent the last couple of years ferrying suitcases of possessions across the Atlantic. P. had put a lot of work into trying to create a home for us in the USA. Our families had to be told. It was emotionally difficult.

It meant giving up on a dream we had held for a long time.

But giving up was less difficult, and less devastating, than trying to hold on.

Sometimes, you have to change direction.

Maybe that is giving up on a long-term relationship.

Maybe that is giving up on a career you’ve invested years into building but that isn’t making you happy any more.

Maybe it’s giving up on the idea of becoming a World Champion WoW player, because, hey, you need to focus on your job.

And maybe it’s giving up on the idea of living in another country.

 

Hello 2015

Happy New Year! Etc. Etc.

I already have my 40 before 40 list, so I don’t really feel the need to set myself more goals at this point in time. The only two real resolutions I have for this year are:

  1. Write *something* every single day — even if it’s just a full-stop.
  2. Complete the 100 push-up challenge.

My ability to manage my life generally is good — I eat pretty healthy, without obsessing. I exercise reasonably, without beating myself up when I miss a week or two. I have income and feel reasonably confident about the future.

My main hope for 2015 is to finally get my visa and move to the USA. But as this is somewhat out of my control, I’m not setting it as a resolution.

Impostor syndrome, women in tech, freelancing

When I was seventeen or so you would find me staring at lines of code, resolutely programming a custom CMS in PHP or designing yet another layout for my blog. I was that kid, the one terrified of speaking to people. Who had a bizarre fear of the telephone. Whose social circle was limited to playing D&D and who truanted from just one class – Physical Education.

By all rights I should have ended up a developer. Maybe a designer. The place I actually ended up was… communications and marketing.

It seems bizarre now, looking back on it. The kid who once let a store short change them rather than risk making a scene ended up managing relationships with people for a living.

The reason I didn’t study computers or programming at University is probably down to a combination of things. Neither of my parents went to Uni, I had a vague idea I wanted to create comic books for a living, my career advisor was crap. I ended up doing English & Creative Writing. It was a good degree. It even had a web design module, which taught us how to use Dreamweaver. (I sidestepped it and just wrote my code directly.)

My first ‘proper’ job after University — after a six month stint in a call-centre — was working for a Video Game start-up. I was super-excited! They hired me because I said I wanted to work in something that would use both my writing and my tech skills.

I used my writing skills. My tech skills were limited to copy&paste. Somehow I got pushed more and more into the marketing and PR side of things. I organised LAN sessions — but I didn’t play in them. I wrote peppy news-posts and managed the forum.

At some point, I got the chance to write a fiction blog detailing the lives of two ‘background characters’ caught up in the video game’s universe. I developed a character: an older woman, struggling with arthritis, a missionary in a strange land. The artist did a fantastic job drawing her.

Then our lead designer came back: “What is this shit? She looks sick! We need her to be SEXY.”

I quit not long after. For lots of reasons. I wasn’t getting paid even minimum wage, I was expected to be on call at 7am and 11pm. And I had realised I would never be much more than the peppy female face of the company, not someone who had any real input into the games.

All the designers, developers, programmers were male. The PR staff were mainly female.

After that I ended up in a part-time admin job, and decided to set up a freelance web-design business on the side. I worked pretty hard, coding up around twenty websites over the first year or so. I even built another custom CMS, this being before WordPress and its like had really taken off. I developed e-commerce sites. I learned Magneto’s templating system.

Then my part-time admin role went full-time. I couldn’t really afford to say no. I kept the freelancing up but on a very ad-hoc basis.

After three years or so doing the admin job, I eventually landed a new job. Digital Communications Offer for an environmental charity. Some of the essential skills included HTML, CSS, experience with Drupal, even Flash. There was to be a core coding component to the role.

But it was still a marketing role, not a tech role. It was the most ‘tech orientated’ of any of the jobs I have had. I built internal sites, including custom php scripts to manage an internal bulletin system. I built a localhost site for a touchscreen. I managed a linux server. But day-to-day? Producing fun graphics and running social media. Writing newsletters. Managing bloggers.

Don’t get me wrong. I have come to enjoy that side of my job — and I’m good at it. I tripled web traffic and increased conversion rates. I launched our social media strategy. I gave presentations to rooms full of people. But the days I really enjoyed my job were the days I spent picking apart php code.

I struggle with impostor syndrome — the feeling that I’m never good enough, that I’m out of place. When I meet ‘real’ developers I stay silent, unable to contribute.

Whilst working for this charity I liaised with a web development agency that managed our main website – one of the top London agencies, charging £750 a day — and discovered that many of their coders were no better than me. I frequently suggested solutions to the bugs I found. We had many problems that I ended up working around with code over-writes (a terrible solution, by the way).

I left that job, to try and move to the USA, and in the last couple of weeks I’ve launched myself as a full-time web developer.

I do know my stuff. I’ve been reading tech blogs for fun my whole life. I love learning about UX principles. I can solve css issues. I’m not up to speed on things like Ruby on Rails, but I can build a damn website.

But the voice that says I’m not good enough doesn’t go away.

Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I’d ever managed to get one of those developer jobs at an agency that I applied for. I applied to so many of them! Was it my skills that weren’t up to par? And yet my social skills, my marketing skills, they really were not ‘up to par’ when I started my career, and that’s where I ended up.

I guess I will never know.

 

 

 

 

Turning thirty: Some thoughts on the big three-oh

I turned thirty on the 16th July. It was a fairly quiet celebration, as I’d already had my big party earlier in the year — before taking off to the USA for three months. We went on a boat trip, enjoyed a nice meal, and I drank a glass or two of wine. Restrained, and, honestly, pretty grown up.

I completed my thirty-before-thirty, or at least half the items on the list. I started coming up with ideas for my forty-before-forty. I completed the second draft of my second novel, and have almost completed the first draft of a sequel to The Rising Wind.

I also got some bad news about my visa. For those not in the know, I applied for a spousal visa to join my husband in the USA back in December 2013. Initial time estimates suggested we should have it by July. Further investigation suggested September. And now it looks like there’s yet more delays and we won’t get it until February 2015. So I’m facing another six months without my spouse, for no real reason other than red-tape. It all feels slightly kafka-esque.

But, because I’m thirty, I just sort of deal with it all. The day I got the news was the same day I started to apply for contract jobs back in the UK.

Turning thirty is considered a big deal in our society. In the same way that 18 (or 21) takes you from a teenager to a young adult, thirty takes you from young adult to very firmly adult. You probably have a career, as opposed to a job (well, maybe. The economy may have dictated otherwise). You may be married, or at least in a relationship that has lasted longer than three hours. You might have children or be planning for them (it feels like a lot of my friends have kids now).

It can carry a negative stigma. Choices start closing down. If you do want kids, you should definitely be getting your skates on (if you’re a woman). Suddenly decided you want to become a doctor? Thirty is probably your last chance.

Thanks to improved heath-care (at least for the middle and upper classes) thirty is no longer middle-aged. I can comfortably expect to live to eighty, as long as I don’t get hit by a bus or the world’s water supply doesn’t run out, or all the farmland doesn’t get turned to desert and/or vanishes underwater thanks to global warming.

In a lot of ways, I have more choices. I have more money (or less debt?). I can go after more prestigious jobs. I have enough experience that I can plan out exciting holidays. Life is stable enough that I can have a rough idea of where I’ll be in ten years and plan accordingly. When I was twenty I often had no idea what my life would look like next week!

There are exciting things to look forward to. Technology has reshaped culture, medicine, the way we interact, how we learn — and it’s only changing faster. In my lifetime I have watched the internet change everything. As it reaches more places, becomes faster, smaller, more synced up, it will change even more things. Driverless cars, doctors that can perform surgery thousands of miles away from where they are, wearables that can track all your health indicators and warn you the second you need to see a GP. And things out of science-fiction: private space-travel, faster-than-light warp drives, access to the entire worlds knowledge on a gadget smaller than a book.

At thirty, I’m more sure of myself. I know what I enjoy doing (hiking, camping, superhero movies, writing, reading, slow travel) and I know what I don’t enjoy doing (drinking too much, grimdark action movies, driving, chicklit). I don’t need to waste time on a bunch of stuff I don’t enjoy.

There are some things that I’m glad I kept hold of:

Your job is not your identity. I didn’t have a problem quitting my job and spending three months in the USA. Life is way too short to worry about ‘being a productive worker’. Yeah, you need money, and you can’t rely on other people’s goodwill forever… but equally don’t spend all your time building safety-nets and never actually going on the adventure.

On a similar note: your bank-account does not dictate your worth as a human being. The work that I am most proud of is often the work I got paid least for. Equally, the time I have spent supporting my friends, looking after my family, and generally ‘being a good person’ is worth far more than the time I spent copying numbers from paperwork to computer screen… even though the latter paid more.

When people tell you it’s ‘who you know’ that counts they are not kidding. Cultivate friends everywhere. Don’t ever be a jerk. Keep your promises. Always do your best work, even when it’s menial or boring.

Maintain interesting hobbies. Too many people spend their free time drinking or mindlessly watching netflix. Yes, netflix is cool, and sometimes you need the downtime. But at the same time you should have something you do that is just for you, that is interesting and keeps you busy and works your brain or your body but that you don’t get paid for.

Exercise. I was the nerdy kid who hated PE at school. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the way exercise helps me sleep, wards off depression, gives me energy and keeps me strong. I never want to exercise, but I am always glad when I do.

I guess that is all of my thoughts on being thirty… but I should have a forty-before-forty post up here soon. I have some exciting goals to aim for!

 

An ode to walking

I love walking.

Quite often, when you say you’re “going for a walk”, it conjures up images of trails through woodland, blue skies, and probably someone else to walk hand-in-hand with. Or maybe you think of a beach, wandering alone along the shore thinking deep thoughts. And I won’t deny, some of my best walks have been done on a sunny day in some woodland or along a wintery beach.

That’s not the only walking I enjoy though. I enjoy walking along streets, staring at people’s houses and wondering who lives inside. I enjoy walking through car parks, which have a beautiful openness to them. They also, oddly, remind me of zombie movies. I enjoy walking along badly lit back roads at night, when the moon shines down and the shadows jump at you and you get a little frisson of fear.

Walking in the rain? Makes me feel alive, young and full of energy. I love it. I still remember the day I was walking home from school and I got caught in a sudden, epic, thunderstorm. For a moment I thought shit! But then after a few more paces I changed that to holy shit, this is awesome!

Blustery winds? Make me struggle to walk forward, but always blow a massive grin onto my face. A walk on a cold day can make a headache vanish better than any painkiller.

The health benefits of walking are numerous; you burn calories, it improves digestion, it improves mobility, it lowers blood pressure. I like to walk every day. When I skip a walk I get mopey, angry, self-reflective and lazy. All my best ideas have come to when walking… if I’m ever stuck on a story idea, a long walk is usually all it takes to get me back behind the keyboard.

So… I think I’m going for a walk. Care to join me?